Today the concept of the bourgeoisie has a broad sense. Literally bourgeoise is French for town dwellers. It has come to mean the middle class.

The sociological concept of class continues to be a Marxian concept. Marx felt that history was composed of class struggles and that the bourgeoisie were the oppressors of the proletarians, using wage-labour as a tool of subjugation wherein, come industrialization, the worker was alienated to add insult to injury. Crucially it was the workings of the dialectics of historical materialism that shaped the history, and future, of mankind. Therefore material conditions created and defined classes.

To this Marxist approach Weber added two dimensions of status and party. His legal-rationalistic notions of meritocracy had much bearing on this. However he somewhat sidestepped the problem of exploitation. Indeed it has been argued that the main reason that Weber became a leading authority on class is that, along with Marx, he was the only German sociologist who deliberated on the issue and was translated to English. For both, the working class is defined by its seperation from ownership of the means of production.

For Marx, capitalism was only a stage, a prelude, to a classless socialist society where classes would be abolished. With (post)modernity the division of classes has come to be defined along lines divided by countries, regions or continents even as well as internal ones. Complicating matters is the embourgeoisement of the populations of developed countries. This segment of the population is known as the service class.

In 1970 the service class counted for 31% of the workforce in France in. It was 31% in England in 1972. Estimated at 71,5% in 1999 in France the proportion has more than doubled since then. For "the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production ... everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch" In Britain

The numbers engaged in manufacturing industry dropped from eight million in 1968 to 7.1 million in 1976 and would continue to decline for the rest of the century. More and more men and women would spend their working lives at a desk or facing a computer screen, and fewer and fewer at a work bench or on an assembly line.1

Other factors at work here include the growth of public institutions and the welfare state and increasing technological progress and division of labour. One of the most influential class scheme used to analyse classes today was devised by Goldthorpe. In it he breaks classes into three components; service, intermediary and working. This does not take into account the capitalists nor the proletariats, thereby focusing solely on the working class and completely omitting the haves and the havenots.

Professor Erik Olin Wright has termed the modern bourgeoise the "contradictory" class seeing as they can control only one or two out the three economic resources which, according to Wright, they would need to be considered as capitalists and still they are forced to sell their labour. Here is a combination of Marxists and Weberian analysis. Others have suggested the death of class in developed countries.

Objects such as cars and clothes were well-established tokens of their owners' status. Yet advertisers and those who advised on such matters in the press steered away from blatant appeals to class pretensions and increasingly resorted to the neutral words 'lifestyle' or 'style'. Lifestyle could never be divorced from class and only the naive believed otherwise.2
In this culture, for example, Henry Ford is appreciated in a particular way: not as industrial magnate nor as the destroyer of skill but as the producer of solid cars and, even more tellingly, as the prototype self-taught mechanic and backyard tinkerer.3

The mass production demanded by the fleeting artificial desires of the bourgeois masses, enhanced by the ideology of individualism which is inherent in capitalist western culture, has created a new dimension to the old class divisions of landed gentry vs. proletariats. The so-called knowledge economy based on the service class feeds partly off fractions of the profits generated by the working class and valuable natural resources as the bourgeoise have always done. More importantly there is an artificial economy of various services such as the entertainment industry. Individualism paved the way for lifestyles by making appearances count. Social appearances, etiquette, is a barometer of middle-classness and this has always been so it seems. Already in 1481, long before anyone can seriously talk of a middle class, one William Boket of Salisbury insulted the mayor telling him "Turd, fart, for I am worth six of you, you are a fool". This was despite the fact that the local council had, out of necessity, made such insolence subject to a fine and William was promptly fined.

The evolution of classes in Western Europe has been into - not haves and have-nots as Marx predicted but – a crass go-between which has resulted in the plural use of 'middle classes' and is mired in its own narcissism.



1 James, Lawrence. The Middle Class: A History. Pp 438-439.
2 James, Lawrence. The Middle Class: A History. Pp 436.
3 Moorhouse, H.F. American automobiles and workers' dreams. P 413.

Bour*geoi*sie", n. [F.]

The French middle class, particularly such as are concerned in, or dependent on, trade.

 

© Webster 1913.

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